British Empire
The British Empire was made up of the United Kingdom and its overseas colonies and dependencies. The British Empire began with the colonization of Newfoundland in 1583. In addition to North American settlements, the Empire grew through mercantile expansion and conquest to include regions around the world. At the beginning, colonies were treated as sources of raw materials and markets, although the emphasis shifted to development as the empire matured. Over time, some colonies, beginning with Canada in 1867, became dominions. In 1931, the Statute of Westminster proclaimed the equality of Britain and the dominions. After the Second World War, dominion status was ended and a Commonwealth Relations Office set up. India, Pakistan, and other colonies in Asia and Africa gained independence. Today, the British Commonwealth is the free association of Britain and independent states that once made up the empire.
The region of southeast Europe that includes the countries of the former Yugoslavia, Albania, Bulgaria, Rumania, Greece, and European Turkey.

1. Childhood, Education, and the War
Lester Bowles Pearson was born in 1897 near Toronto, in an English Canada that was rich, prosperous, and confident. Taught to believe in the British Empire, Canada, the Methodist Church, the value of hard work and a social conscience, he developed into a patient, pragmatic, kind, and likable person, skilled at sports and at making friends.

"Mike" Pearson did well in school, but he interrupted university in 1915 to sign up for the war, subsequently serving with a medical unit in the Balkans. In 1917, before he could be sent to the front, he was hit by a bus in London and returned home. After the war, he completed his studies in Oxford before accepting a teaching position at the University of Toronto.

Next page: The Diplomat

The War

PHOTO: Canadian infantrymen on the front line try to get some rest. Canada Department of National Defence/National Archives of Canada PA-002468

The experience in Greece was, I think, pretty awful because being a stretcher bearer, you know, is not a very nice life. So he tried to get out of that and went back to England to join the Royal Flying Corps and I think he thought that to go from stretcher bearing, mud holes, and carrying wounded men to flying in a plane up in the sky would have been the opposite, you know. He never got very far with that before the war ended. He was, himself, hit by a bus and he had to take two or three months in the hospital....It was a rather strange war for him which he didn't talk about much. It may be that the war was a kind of black time for him.

Geoffrey Pearson (1927-), diplomat and author, son of Lester Pearson.